UTMB – Ultra Trail du Mud Bath!

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First morning back at work, two weeks on and my mind is still out there on the Alps…

…lost, disappointed, frustrated, gutted… …accepted and ‘almost’ over it…

There’s been a significant delay in my race report on this one. A pal suggested that perhaps in putting something down on paper, sooner rather than later, might help with the huge disappointment that I have had to deal with, suffering from an accident, that lead to my early retiral from the mighty UTMB.

It’s been a strong year but a hard and challenging one for me – I chose a big step in running mountain ultras this year, with my final goal being to see myself running into Chamonix, towards an iconic finish line, crowds cheering and a proud wife welcoming me home, with a warm hug.

I’ve delayed this a few times, written a few different versions, I guess based on different days emotions but basically, here’s my first DNF – not too bothered about a DNF as such, as I’m happy to be challenging myself in races, where finishing is not guaranteed and simply learn more about my ‘self’ and my body along the way. BUT to be taken out of a race, a race that was my true focus and personal goal for over a year, due to an unforeseen accident, is truly gutting and a hard one to come to terms with and accept.

I have had to sacrifice a lot over the past year, training for this event, every runner does, but I have never forgotten about the additional sacrifices and huge support that I have always had from my wife Eil on these crazy adventures of mine and I’m truly gutted for her as well as myself.

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UTMB Thoughts:

Training, Prep & Race Conditions:

As a Scottish mountain runner, I’m used to the hardships of rain, sleet, snow and gale force winds. I have come to enjoy these extremes that mother nature can throw at you, always pitting against a natural force, that can be as relentless with its attacks, as I am to my dedication. I was conditioned, well trained, strong – albeit, a slight niggle with my right knee from a year of hard mountain ultras. It rained hard for the first 9hrs of the race but I was loving it! The forecast was for it to stop by sunrise and then we would have the rest of the race in glorious sunshine. I couldn’t have been more fortunate with the way things had turned out, as I know how notoriously brutal the UTMB can be for weather.

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Due to a whole week of running races over the UTMB route and some heavy rain during that period, we had extremely poor ground conditions. This lead to a lot of people slipping and stumbling about everywhere, all of the time. I was so pleased to have my running poles, as without these I would have surely joined the others that were slipping and sliding on their backsides down some of the more steeper ascents and descents. My main concern during these times was ‘not’ to slip at any point, as this could cause me to land hard on the rock and niggle my broken coccyx, which would have resulted in the end of the race for me.

Experience:
Way too crowded – nose to arse the whole way round. This is to be expected I guess, after all it’s the UTMB – a bucket list race that everyone want to experience, run, and complete. I was only one of 2,300 runners out there. I say runners but another thing that I soon came to note, was that no- one was actually running. Apart from the initial 7km to Les Houches and the odd strip of tarmac through the towns, everyone was power hiking up and down the mountains. It was still early days thought and I had been advised by others runners to stay back, relax, don’t panic and get carried away in the hype and burn out too soon. I’ve pushed off too hard in other races and paid the price later, so I was keen to take all advice on board. Sadly though, I was so far at the back, within a human chain of trekkers, that I could not ‘run my own race’. There was the occasional spot where you could pass a few but, for the most, I needed to accept the fact that this race was long and pace would be determined by the hundreds climbing in front. Still though, my plan was to stay calm, enjoy the moment and eventually – come halfway (Courmayeur) things would open out ‘perhaps’ and I’d get to enjoy some of the slightly more flatter, yet small in distance, trails of Italy. If nothing else, I would be running in daylight and enjoying the natural splendor of panoramic after panoramic views of the French, Italian and Swiss Alps around Mont Blanc. This was my other major focus of this race. I am a keen photographer and was also looking forward to documenting some of these breathtaking views. From the dvd’s, photos, blog reports and last year’s holiday, I knew I was in for a treat up here – in my bubble, my time, my pace, my race.

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Sadly that bubble was burst as an impatient or simply faster fitter runner wanted by and slipped and hit hard into my side, causing me to twist my ‘tender’ knee. Up to that point I was running strong. Yes, I had had my moments of pain and hard graft, climbing and slipping through a wet 11hrs of alpine terrain but for the most I was positive, strong and still smiling from ear to ear. Having just climbed a nasty 2,000mtrs through checkpoints Col du bonhomme and Croix du bon-homme, I was now on a descent that allowed me to suck in the air and feel myself recovering quickly from the previous tough ascent. Sunrise was in a couple of hours time and again, I’d feel reenergized by this warmth as well as the dawning of what promised to be a glorious day! Time for some photos…! 🙂

As I regained my composure, from my nasty knock, I stumbled and limped into Les Chapieux checkpoint, had some chicken noodle soup and went to see the Doc about my knee…

GAME OVER – I had pulled or stretched a ligament in my knee that would clearly not see me carry on and cover the remaining 110km and 6,000mtrs of ascent. Sadly having only covered 11hrs of trekking, 50km of distance, with an accumulative ascent of over 3,000mtrs, my adventure and ‘fun run’ was over.

My mind was still racing, I had eaten well throughout my time, gels, sweets as well as the check-point soup, cheese and saucisson – all had seen me right.

I hadn’t even played any of my UTMB ‘power running’ tunes. I hadn’t worn my sunglasses to enjoy the daytime high altitude trails. I hadn’t finished my current supply of Jelly Babies that I promised a mate of mine that I would. I hadn’t succumbed to the temptation of a chilled and refreshing Pepsi. I hadn’t savored my first sip of coffee in weeks, whilst enjoying the alpine views and waiting for that caffeine boost! I hadn’t managed to record the whole route on my Suunto watch. I hadn’t picked up my Scottish flag for my return leg into Chamonix. I hadn’t managed to preserve my race number, that was now missing it’s runner’s i.d. barcode. I hadn’t collected my Finisher’s Gilet, I hadn’t…

…I hadn’t finished the UTMB.

This wasn’t the panic of a sleepy dream, this was real – plain and simple. I hadn’t done a lot of what I had worked so hard to accomplish and enjoy out there and I was now on a return bus, rather than cruising over the alps and down into Chamonix, through the cheering crowds, towards Eilidh and an epic finish line.

GUTTED.

A lot of hard work and training goes into this race, a lot of runners apply – over 6,000 applicants for 2,300 places. Hopefully I’m fortunate again, I can return and resolve some unfinished business.

P.S.
Ok, so having put down this initial blog, I thought it should also be highlighted that I am very proud to have gotten to stand toe to toe, shoulder to shoulder with many other likeminded, as well as elite runners of our ultra running community. I have seen in the past how this race has taken no prisoners, and retired many a ‘grand master’ of the trails. From some of our own homegrown elite runners such as Paul Giblin, who has been a true inspiration to me, with his EPIC efforts throughout the past few years, that saw him not only shatter the West Highland Way Ultra Race once BUT twice! – to other elite runners such as Anton Krupicka, who I saw and followed last year at the UTMB, who also endured, suffered, battled and finally retired from the race. This year he was back. He still found himself, at times, struggling and in a dark place with his relationship to the race but this year, he was triumphant! He describes his efforts and battle with this years race brilliantly in the video link below and reminds us all, that the main focus of running should never be forgotten:

Run and enjoy, regardless of the end result or race position. Enjoy the mountains, reconnect with your environment, test yourself, if you wish but be proud of your efforts…

ENJOY!

– Time to focus on some time and ‘adventures’ with my wife Eilidh and pup Turry… 🙂

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2 responses to “UTMB – Ultra Trail du Mud Bath!

  1. What a shame, especially as it wasn’t really anything within your control. The UTMB always sounds massively overcrowded which puts me off entering but these pictures make it look fantastic! Hope you feel better soon 🙂

    • Hey, thanks for the reply! Yup, being a ‘country boy’, that loves space to roam, I was a little disappointed but again not too surprised by the crazy crowd. Some runners were great to be around, others not so. Some that push and shove, others that are happy to chat and share in the delights!
      One girl, told me how she ran last year and had stopped for a break at one point in the race, during the night. She was enjoying looking up and seeing the all stars in the dark sky, only to realise that they were actually numerous head torches, climbing high into the mountains! That’s steeeeeep! 🙂

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